Can listening to sexually aggressive lyrics prompt teenagers to have sex at an earlier age?
That’s the issue raised by a new study, and it could unleash a fierce debate over whether a teen’s music player is potentially risky and, if so, what should or can be done about it.
In an unusual piece of research, investigators at the University of Pittsburgh graded the sexual aggressiveness of lyrics, using songs by popular artists on the US Billboard chart.
The lyrics were graded from the least to the most sexually degrading.
They then asked 711 students aged 15 to 16 at three local high schools about their music preferences and their sexual behavior.
Overall, 31 percent of the teens had had intercourse.
But the rate was only 20.6 percent among those who had been least exposed to sexually degrading lyrics, but 44.6 percent among those highly exposed to the most degrading lyrics.
The study’s lead author, Brian Primack, said music by itself was not the direct spark for sex but helped mould perception and was thus “likely to be a factor” in sexual development.
“These lyrics frequently portray aggressive males subduing submissive females, which may lead adolescents to incorporate this ‘script’ for sexual experience into their world view,” he said.
“Non-degrading” lyrics described sex in a non-specific way and as a mutually consensual act, while “degrading” lyrics described sexual acts as a purely physical, graphic and dominant act.
An example of degrading lyrics was “Wait ‘till you see my dick, I’m gonna beat that pussy up.”
“Lyrics describing degrading sex tend to portray sex as expected, direct and uncomplicated,” said the paper, which appeared last week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “Such descriptions may offer scripts that adolescents feel compelled to play out.”
But Raymond MacDonald, a specialist in music psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, described it as “a perennial debate that cropped up with artists like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Sex Pistols and Elvis Presley before that.”
“Do we really need a solution to the problem?” he asked.
MacDonald said that even if every generation rehashes the discussion differently, there’s an important difference today: Age lines have blurred and now everyone is listening to everything.
“Maybe we should do a study to see if the music has as bad an influence on grandparents,” he said wryly.
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